• Incidents of far-right terrorism have increased by 320% in the past five years in Western Europe, North America and Oceania.
  • But far-right terrorism remains a tiny fraction of total terrorism worldwide.
  • Terrorism-related deaths are half what they were in 2014 – but the number of countries recording a death from terrorism increased.

In the past five years, the threat posed by far-right extremism and terrorism in the West has spiked sharply.

Since 2014, the number of incidents of far-right terrorism in Western nations – particularly those in Western Europe, North America and Oceania – has grown by 320%, according to the Global Terrorism Index 2019.

In the first nine months of 2019 alone, the number of people killed by far-right extremists was 77, up from 11 in 2017.

The index defines the far-right as a “political ideology that is centred on one or more of the following elements: strident nationalism (usually racial or exclusivist in some fashion), fascism, racism, anti-Semitism, anti-immigration, chauvinism, nativism, and xenophobia”.

There has been a 320 per cent increase in far-right terrorism in the past five years
Far-right terrorism has increased by 320% in the past five years.
Image: Global Terrorism Index 2019

Unaffiliated individuals

Over the past 50 years, there have been 11 far-right attacks that have killed more than 10 people.

And in the past decade, far-right terrorism has become increasingly associated with “individuals with broad ideological allegiances rather than specific terrorist groups”, according to the index.

Just under 60% of terrorist attacks attributed to far-right and Islamist groups are carried out by unaffiliated individuals.

terrorism attacks and the rise of the far-right
Around 60 per cent of both far-right and Islamist attacks are unaffiliated, according to the report.
Image: Global Terrorism Index 2019

In March 2019, a lone gunmen attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 people and injuring 49.

But the country has no real history of terrorism, throwing into sharp focus how the far-right ideology has spread. A mass shooting in August at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, killed 22 people – and the lone gunman accused is believed to have been motivated in part by the Christchurch attack.

By contrast, the index found separatist, far-left, and environmental terrorists were much more likely to be affiliated with a specific group. Of those groups, 9%, 10%, and 15% of attacks, respectively, were carried out by unaffiliated individuals.

Global terrorism falling

However, far-right terrorism remains a tiny fraction of total terrorism worldwide. In fact, the number of people killed by terrorists fell for the fourth consecutive year in 2018 to just under 16,000. Total terrorism deaths have more than halved since their peak in 2014.

A de-escalation of conflict in the Middle East, and the subsequent decline of the terrorist group ISIS – also known as ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) – is the primary driver for the falling death toll, according to the index.

It tallies the number of “intentional acts of violence or threats of violence by a non-state actor” and assigns each country a score from zero to 10 based on the impact of terrorism.

The index found although the impact of terrorism lessened in most countries last year, it remains a major and widespread global threat. The number of countries recording a death from terrorism rose from 67 to 71 in 2018. And although the death toll is at its lowest level for five years, it’s still nearly three times higher than it was in 2001.

Total deaths from terrorism fell 15.2 per cent from 2017 to 2018.
Between 2017 and 2018, total deaths from terrorism fell by 15.2%.
Image: Global Terrorism Index 2019

Over the past year, the terrorism threat in Iraq and Syria has declined significantly. And looking globally, there was also a fall in numbers of deaths across the Middle East and North Africa, North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific more generally.

The decline in the number of deaths correlates with a dip in the number of attacks – of which there were 7,551 in 2018. And early data for 2019 suggests this trend will continue.

Ten countries accounted for 87 per cent of deaths from terrorism in 2018.
Afghanistan suffered from 46% of the total number of deaths from terrorism in 2018.
Image: Global Terrorism Index 2019

A country-by-country view

The 10 countries with the most deaths from terrorism accounted for 87% of all deaths in 2018. Afghanistan – the country in which terrorism has had the biggest impact – was where nearly half of deaths from terrorism occured last year, becoming notably more deadly since 2017.

Nigeria also saw a big rise in the number of deaths. Although the figure remains substantially below its 2014 peak as a result of fewer deaths attributed to militant Islamic group Boko Haram. Many of the recent killings were down to conflict between pastoralists and nomadic Fulani people.

Groups responsible for the most deaths

For the first time since 2013, ISIL was not the deadliest terrorist group.
TheTaliban, Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS’s affiliate in Central Asia) and Boko Haram were the three groups responsible for the most deaths in 2018.
Image: Global Terrorism Index 2019

The near-total defeat of ISIS in Iraq has had a significant impact on the number of deaths in the country, which for the first time since 2003 is no longer the nation where terrorism has had the most impact. But alongside the Taliban, Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS’s affiliate in Central Asia) and Boko Haram, it remains one of the groups responsible for the most deaths in 2018.

The proliferation of terrorism by these groups has been rapid and widespread. Nearly 60% of deaths were down to one of these four groups: two decades ago the Taliban was the only one of them in existence.